Sunday, May 12, 2024

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the doors were flung open and everyone and his cat got a Bachelor of Laws degree. One of those obsolete phrases beloved of the ancien régime is "as by law established". I forget the explanation for the tortured phraseology; but it captures the spirit of obdurate stubbornness a certain kind of pedantic lawyer will employ to avoid taking responsibility for anything meaningful.

Anyway, it's not the phrase that animates me today, but the remarkable tunnel vision of constitutional law scholars and practitioners. In recent months, the President and the rest of the Cabinet have announced a raft of revenue-raising measures that will impose significantly higher taxes on the vast majority of the salaried. Because of the errors committed by civil society in the past decade, the framework for public participation that should have allowed the affected taxpayers to weigh in meaningfully on the tax proposals has done little but to rubber-stamp the Government's plans.

Because of the failure of participatory decision-making in this regard, there are those who now claim, ridiculously, that the Government has not been established according to the Constitution. This is revisionist balderdash. When the Supreme Court declared that William Ruth was the legitimate winner of the presidential election, and the other courts decided the other election petitions, and the elected men and woe took their oaths of office, the leadership of the Government was absolutely definitely established according to the Constitution. Not one of the elected state officers holding office today came into office through unconstitutional means.

But because many men and women disagree with the decisions made by these elected state officers, and their failure to fashion an effective framework to hold the elected state officers to account for their decisions and actions, they have began spreading the canard that the Government has not been established according to the Constitution. The failures of civil society since the election of Mwai Kibaki in December 2002 have led us down a terrible path, a path where state officers have little to fear from civil society organisations, human rights defenders or anti-corruption crusaders.

One of the biggest disappointments when it comes to holding the Government to account is the Law Society of Kenya, a Bar association established by an Act of Parliament, and whose members are these days appointed to sit in the Boards of Government-owned entities. The Law Society will not bite the hand that feeds it. Instead, like a house pet, it will roll over on its back so that it can receive the belly rub it so desperately desires. In my opinion, the Law Society was last true to its principles in 2002; every single chairman or president, every single Council of the Law Society, every single Branch of the Law Society, and every single position adopted by the Law Society has existed single-mindedly to ensure that the Law Society, its leaders and members, receive favours from the State. In effect, the Law Society has become a Government-owned civil society organisation. It is not the only one.

Faith-based organisations, labour organisations, employers' organisations, private sector institutions, teachers' unions, even human rights defenders...all of them have become off-shoots of the Government and Government-linked organisations. It is a bit rich, therefore, for some civil society windbags to accuse the Government of not being established according to the Constitution. The past eight years have been particularly fraught when it comes to civil society organisations holding State officers to account. One after the other, men and women have brought suits against the Government for some violation of the Bill of Rights but maybe one in ten have stayed the course without striking out-of-court settlements that have lined their pockets at the expense of the public interest. These charlatans don't even have the shame to deny the charge; they admit it freely and arrogantly because mtado?

Monday, March 18, 2024

Some bosses lead, some bosses blame

Bosses make great CX a central part of strategy and mission. Bosses set standards at the top of organizations. Bosses recruit, train, and deploy employees to face customers. Bosses decide how much to spend to make things better. Bosses design processes. Bosses create response and recovery mechanisms. Bosses motivate employees to care about what happens to customers. - Sunny Bindra, What’s really wrong with customer experience? The bosses…

When the bottom line is at stake, bosses can either elevate the CX game or they can plunge the whole organisation into the ground. When the boss's fate is tied to the bottom line, he will either lead from the front or he will find scapegoats to sacrifice. It all depends on what the incentives are, doesn't it?

I have been fortunate to witness the leadership styles of several bosses at my place of work. Some were very inspirational. Many are professional scapegoat hunters. One of my favourite bosses took the time to listen to our clients' complaints, and then she would sit with us and work out why the client had a poor CX, and on the basis of that process, proposed a solution. Sometimes the solution worked. Sometimes it was a trial-and-error process until it was solved. She was firm with us, but she never shifted the blame onto us. She led us to do some amazing things, especially in designing a client management system that I have taken with me in subsequent posts.

My least favourite boss refused to take responsibility, shirked difficult decisions, and refused to discuss his proposals with anyone. Not his direct reports. Not the rank and file. Not even his peers in the organisation. He was so busy covering his ass that even obvious things fell through the cracks. What's worse, he identified a few pet employees whom he favoured over other, and they became his snitches - not for quality control purposes, but to weed out the frustrated malcontents who desired to do better and be better. Under him, CX was no longer a priority; all that mattered was that the boss was not blamed for anything. He was eventually sacked and it will take a long time to address the problems he left behind.

Being boss is frighteningly hard if one lacks the EQ to manage a diverse staff and manage the inevitable complaints from his clients. As a line manager, I want the team I manage to excel, and I want my clients to have an excellent CX. The past two years have been difficult all around and part of my job is giving clients bad news. If I didn't have faith in my team, I wouldn't have the necessary information to manage my clients' expectations, and make the experience of receiving the bad news tolerable.

While I don't subscribe to the adage that the customer is always right - in my profession, when the client walks in through the door, it is because he has been accused of doing something wrong - but I almost never dismiss my client's requests out of hand. In order to figure out what kind of service he needs, I ask a million questions, prepare a draft opinion, and  then work with the client to arrive at a common understanding of the problem and a reasonable understanding of how to deal with it. This takes time and my favourite boss understood this. She demanded speed, but never at the expense of precision. I miss her.

My least favourite boss assumed that all that hand-holding was intended to undermine him, that we were delaying solving clients' problems so that he would look bad to his bosses. As a result, he forced many of us to cut corners, with the expected outcomes: poor client experiences that eventually led to his sacking. He broke that which didn't need fixing, refused to fix it, shifted blame, and made working for him a nightmare, which made our client management suffer in the bargain. Even our clients are happy he got sacked.

So, yes, agree. A boss who wants his clients to have great CX and who is willing to do the hard work of setting the necessary standards and overseeing their implementation will almost always have grateful clients and loyal subordinates.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

They all fall, eventually

The member of the National Assembly for Mumias East is a spectacularly unpleasant character. But he is not unique. A former member of the National Assembly for Gatundu South is just equally as unpleasant. They are not unique. They are not even unique in the nasty, overbearing, narcissistic and hubristic way they go about generating publicity for themselves. They are just extreme examples of their fellow parliamentarians, who, whenever the opportunity challenges them, can be as nasty and unpleasant as these two worthies.

There is something in the water they drink over there that transforms usually decent hum beings into uncouth, ill-mannered, reckless, unpleasant parliamentarians. Well, not exactly the water. But something. The day they are sworn in, they are instantly swaddled in an extremely comforting and isolating cocoon of privilege and power. They have instant access to millions of shillings in the form of a mortgage, a car grant, and an annual salary that is many multiples of what the lowest paid Kenyan earns.

Wherever they go, doors are flung open and red carpets rolled out for them. Whenever they speak, serious members of the chatterati and civil service pay keen attention. Whenever they demand things, the great unwashed masses bend over backwards to accommodate them. It matters not that they treat their constituents like shit. Now they are mheshimiwa, and mheshimiwa's wish is our command.

Whatever selfish and narcissistic tendencies they posses are usually amplified to the nth degree. They, almost to a man, believe that they deserve to be where they are, that they are there because the people adore them, that they are cleverer than the rest of us, that they are God's choice because the christian bible says leaders are chosen by God. Arrogance and contempt are their watchword. Not even the judges of the High Court or the Inspectors-General of Police can corral their ambitions, power and vision.

As a consequence, it no longer occurs to them that they cannot ride roughshod over is without facing electoral consequence. They cannot scoff at the law without, eventually, made to face the long arm of the law. They are immune to the lessons of political history: eventually, they all fall, and the harder they rode roughshod over us, the harder the fall is. Very rarely will we sympathise with a former mheshimiwa. More likely, we will make them taste what they shoved down our throats, and if they happen to be financially at sixes and sevens, we will make them regret the very day they chose to adorn themselves with a power that wasn't theirs.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Who will rid us of this pestilential man?

Dimples is a bad governor. He is not the only one, but I choose to focus my animus on him today.

If you are one of the residents of our once fair City who has had to trudge through mud, effluent and storm debris as you go from place to place, you can lay the blame for your tribulations at the feet of Dimples and his laughably bad administration.

When he was our senator, and he was contemplating a gubernatorial campaign, and we were, once again, in the quagmire caused by heavy rains and potholed roads, Dimples suggested that we could overcome our transportation woes if we bought SUVs like his beloved Land Cruiser VX. He was a stupid man then. His stupidity has not stopped. It might have gotten worse.

I am (still) a resident of the Eastlands Nation. I have no choice but to use Jogoo Road, to and from work. These days, because the public transportation is all shot to hell, I commute in the discomforts of my jalopy. Potholes are the bane of my commute. Many months old potholes that Dimples has not seen fit to fill in. Potholes that, when covered with the massive oceans of rainwater that cannot be drained because the drainage is blocked, are a hazard to similar jalopies to mine.

From the Dönholm Roundabout to City Stadium, from City Stadium to Wakulima Market (using Landhies Road), From Wakulima Market to the Moi Avenue/Haile Selassie Roundabout, Dimples has turned a blind eye to the potholes, clogged drains, drains with missing drainage covers, manholes with missing manhole covers, and the maelstrom of mud and rubbish that has accumulated over many months. Instead, Dimples amuses himself by repainting City County buildings and calling that progress. Or tweeting Nai iWork rubbish.

Dimples is a bad governor. We should rid ourself of his pestilential self.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Go away.

A short video doing the rounds on social media shows former vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka and former Mombasa senator Omar Hasan exchanging words during one of the meetings of the National Dialogue Committee. Mr. Musyoka appears to be trying to shut down whatever point Mr. Hasan is making, all the while the Governor of Embu is trying, without success, to get the two of them to put a sock in it.

Kenya's constitutional discourse reflects the ego-driven war of words between Mr. Musyoka and Mr. Hasan. Little of the top-down constitutional prescriptions by the political elites of our communities has anything to do with what the peoples of Kenya want. Mr. Musyoka and Mr. Hasan (and the rest of the National Dialogue Committee) have learnt nothing from the fiasco that was the Building Bridges Initiative.

What I found interesting in the video is the dismissive and contemptuous tone the two men have for each other. It s clear Mr. Musyoka thinks that Mr. Hasan is childish and ungrateful, while Mr. Hasan thinks Mr. Musyoka is a delusional over-the-political-hill old man. They were thinking only of the things that affected them. The ostensible reason for the National Dialogue Committee - constitutional amendments for the benefit of Kenyans - was given short shrift at the altar of their egos. It didn't occur to them that neither of them came out smelling of roses. Instead, Kenyans were reminded once more that Kenya's politicians are driven only by selfish self interest, and not the public good.

It has been decades since Kenya even had the semblance of an intelligent political class. Though it has always been venal and corrupt, it didn't allow its venality and corruption to prevent it from doing some good, every now and then. But the past fifteen years, as the political class has been divorced from the people it is supposed to represent, have witnessed the slow and inexorable decline in anything beneficial to the people and the elevation of the interests of the cabal sitting in Government at the expense of sensible public policy.

Today, only the Kenyans at the top can say with genuine pride that their lives have improved. Instead, personal income taxes have gone up. Regressive indirect taxes have gone up. Household incomes have crashed. The quality of public services is in the toilet. Life is hard and is made harder by political burdens Kenyans neither want nor need. Life would be immeasurably improved if Messrs. Musyoka, Hasan and their ilk should go somewhere far away and stayed there until the end of time. But that is not a realistic option, is it?

Thursday, October 05, 2023

The love language of shameful silence

One of the meanings of "careful" is "making sure of avoiding potential danger, mishap, or harm; cautious", while "careless" means "not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm or errors". One of the hallmarks of a careful person (or institution) is pride in their name. Careful people will not hide their identity (unless they are careful crooks). In the public service, this who take time t think through their decisions, consult widely when taking decisions, and speak honestly when taking responsibility for their actions, rarely see the need to hide their identities. Their intention is almost always to avoid danger, harm or mishaps.

Careful is not the image that comes to mind when you think of the Kenya Roads Board or its roads authorities, the Kenya National Highways authority, Kenya Urban Roads Authority or Kenya Rural Roads Authority. It is no longer the image that comes to mind when one thinks of the National Transport and Safety Authority or the Traffic Department of the Kenya Police Service. Most road users in Kenya think of these institutions, and their managers and boards of directors, as careless. The death, injury and destruction of property caused by their carelessness is all the proof one needs.

Many factors have contributed to the death, injury and damage caused on our roads. The corruption of the Police and NTSA when it comes to the operation of roadworthy or unroadworthy motor vehicles on our roads comes to mind. The incredibly poor driving skills of the majority of motorists, including drivers of public service vehicles and other kinds of commercial vehicles, cannot be ignored either. The fatalistic risk-taking by other road users can also not be gainsaid.

But of all the factors that contribute to the current dire situation, one of the major ones is that the roads we have are badly designed. Perhaps the design on paper applied the latest techniques adopted in other jurisdictions that have lower rates of death, injury or destruction. But designs on paper don't save lives. IN Kenya, praise is always given for perfect documentary designs. There's that apocryphal anecdote of Kenyan policy documents being successfully implemented by Asian Tigers while the very same policies gather dust in ministry archives. The same may be true when it comes to our roads.

Maybe the implementation of those old designs is sacrificed at the altar of greed, corner-cutting and outright theft of funds and construction material. But the fact that when you try, for example, to find out who the members of the KENHA board are, you end up with a blank page tells you everything you need to know about the nature of the institution. It is not proud of its work. It is not proud of its oversight bodies. It is not proud of its managers. And it is deeply, deeply ashamed of the quality of its work. Why wouldn't they hide their identities?

Very few are nowadays unaware that Kenyan roads are not fit for purpose. Not even for the motorists for whom the roads are ostensibly reserved for. The shiny new elevated expressway is very good at connecting the various exits along its 27 km stretch, but every exit leads to a traffic jam. Thika Super Highway is a funnel that brings clogged traffic into the CBD in the morning and sends it back to Githurai in the evening. Langata Road has a beautiful interchange at T-Mall but only so that it can deliver yo to the Nyayo HighriseEstate/Nyayo Stadium traffic jam in all haste. What all these somewhat impressive feats of civil engineering lack is any sort of common sense. Little or no accommodation is made for Nairobi's legion of pedestrians, nduthists, mkokoteni pullers, and brave-beyond-belief cyclists. Our focus on cars and car drivers has not solved the "traffic problem" and has, instead, made the roads quite unsafe.

So I revisit the shame of the Kenya Roads Board, its roads authorities, the Traffic Department, NTSA and the men and women who make decisions that cause untold harm and damage. They hide their faces because they now that they cannot afford to admit that they are the charlatans who have led to so much death and injury. They hide their shame because in Kenya, shameful silence is their love language.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Kaluma is the nadir of our political decline

George Peter Kaluma (ODM, Homa Bay Town) has sponsored two Bills in the National Assembly that fly in the face of the Constitution. In the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes (Amendment) Bill, he proposes that the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act be amended to provide that a conviction for corruption or economic crimes should not bar the convicted person from holding public office, whether appointed or elected.

In the Family Protection Bill, he proposes to prohibit homosexuality and same sex marriage, to prohibit unnatural sexual acts and related activities and to proscribe activities that seek to advance, advocate, promote or fund homosexuality and unnatural sexual acts and to impose severe penalties, including the death penalty, for offender under the Act.

Mr. Kaluma is not alone in his attempts to subvert Kenya's current constitutional norms; but the extreme nature of the Bills he has sponsored in the 13th Parliament demand an examination of the environment in which he, and his colleagues, are making laws and overseeing the institutions of the State. One of the revelations from such an examination will be that the fetishisation of the Constitution, and international "best practices", has contributed substantially to the current dire state.

When taking instructions in my profession, we were trained to see legislative proposals in their proper context. We were taught to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, nor the good be the enemy of the good enough. Though we were taught that the highest standards of anything should be our goal as legislative drafters, we were warned that the highest standards may frequently be attained only on paper while the practical realities of governing would undermine that lofty ambition at every turn.

Mr. Kaluma, through his two laws, has revealed the limits of high standards. Because Kenyans have fetishised the Constitution and frequently ignored the compromises they make as individuals, as families, as communities, as professionals and as voters, they have established a schizophrenic public principle: high standards for thee and good-enough standard for me. This hypocrisy is seen in the way we see no disconnect in complaining about the dangerous traffic in urban areas, but do absolutely nothing to drive safely, even when we can, because it is the other guy's responsibility - and not mine.

Mr. Kaluma is betting that on his anti-corruption amendment, he will face little, if any, opposition and, if he phrases his arguments in the most religion-tinged incendiary and discriminatory language favoured by United States' politicians, only human rights defenders fighting for equality will oppose the Family Protection Bill. He is not wrong. Because we have fetishised "public participation", even when the public is a majoritarian mob baying for the blood of minority communities, we assume that merely obeying the letter of the law is sufficient; the spirit of the law is neither here nor there.

We had a window of opportunity after the late Mutula Kilonzo and his successor, Martha Karua, pushed through the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Act that entrenched the Constitutional Review process that culminated in the Constitution of Kenya promulgated on the 27th August, 2010. (It is instructive that that the Thirteenth Anniversary of the Constitution of Kenya passed without being mentioned by State officers in any meaningful way.) That window of opportunity slammed shut when President Uhuru Uhuru Kenyatta and the Parliament of Kenya conspired to ram through the Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014. That was the first significant State attempt to undermine the spirit of the Constitution. Mr. Kaluma is the heir of that odious legislative legacy.

"Reasons" will always be found to not do the hard work of nation-building, institution- building and development of constitutionalism as a principle of society. Whether it is lack of "resources" or some other weak-tea argument, if the ground has been seeded with enough Doubting Thomases, the State officers intent on undermining the Constitution will find themselves pushing against an open door.

Kenya no longer has robust institutions that can argue forcefully against the likes of the Kaluma Bills. At various points in our history, it has been chairmen and members of the Law Society of Kenya (for example Willy Mutunga, CJ, Paul Muite, SC, and Gibson Kamau Kuria, SC) and clerics like Alexander Muge, Henry Okullu, David Gitari and Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki and civil society institutions like the Ufungamano Initiative, National Council of Churches of Kenya and Kenya Human Rights Commission, and university dons like Dr. Crispin Mbai and Ngugi Wa Thiong'o and countless other selfless Kenyans, who spoke for constitutionalism, the rule of law and the rights of the people. Those days appear so quaint and long ago now.

From the moment the first "activist" was elected to Parliament, it has been a drip-drip-drip of disappointment after disappointment. Imagine the psychic shock of watching men and women who stood four-square against the excesses of Daniel Moi and Jomo Kenyatta turning a blind eye to the State-sponsored murders committed during Mwai Kibaki's presidency and the active sabotage of a brand-new constitution by the Uhuru Kenyatta presidency. Is it any wonder that the likes of Mr. Kaluma feel no sense of trepidation as they go about their business in the 13th Parliament?

Kenyans fell into a trap when they washed their hands of political work after the election of Mwai Kibaki. They left the "thinking" to the politicians and turned their energies and talents to making money hand over fist. The good times did not last long. Kenyan hiphop offers a mirror to the state of Kenya's politics. There was a time when Jua Cali, Nonini, Mejja, Necessary Noize, Ukoo Flani Mau Mau, and their musical peers were turning down gigs because they were so busy. The music they made was topical, current and deeply, deeply creative. Then the music stopped. Today all we have left are sex-fuelled "celebrity scandals". If this isn't a metaphor for the rise and fall of Kenyan constitutional politics, I don't know what is.

There is no turning back the clock. The halcyon days when the enemy was clear are long gone. We must build a new framework for not just holding the State, its officers and its agents to account, but we must build a framework that preserves our ability to inject new blood into the process. We have seen what happens when we leave it to octogenarians like Raila Odinga and Makau Mutua. It is not a pretty picture.

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the ...